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Canadian holiday travelers help set one-day passenger record at airport

The Buffalo Niagara International Airport is saying "thank you" to Canadian travelers for their major role in setting a new, one-day passenger record.

In what's becoming a Canadian Thanksgiving holiday tradition, 10,238 flyers passed through the security checkpoint on Oct. 10. That count breaks the previous one-day record of 10,162 set during last October's Canadian Thanksgiving travel period.

"Canadians continue to be a big part of our growth and we saw that in a dramatic way last week," said C. Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

Back in 2000, when the airport began counting license plates in its parking lots, Ontario vehicles comprised fewer than 10 percent of airport users. Canadians now make up 25 to 30 percent of flyers, with the count soaring during their October holiday.

Federal Transportation Security Administration agents counted 36,203 departing passengers from Oct. 10-13, up from 35,327 for the comparable Oct. 5-8 period of 2007.

"Southern Ontario residents have embraced our airport because it's easy to use and they see significant savings by flying out of Buffalo," Hartmayer said.

In a July interview, Lloyd McCoomb, president and chief executive of the Greater Toronto Airports estimated some 750,000 Canadian travelers annually bypass Pearson International Airport to fly out of Buffalo.

Counts by the NFTA put the Canadian flyer count at more than 1 million.

"Even though their dollar has dropped back, they are still coming here and saving hundreds of dollars," Hartmayer said.

Canadian airlines and airport executives are preparing to wage war against the lure of low-cost U.S. flights. Southwest Airlines and Canada's WestJet Airlines has inked a code-sharing deal that will start in 2009.

That relationship will allow travelers to book flights on WestJet out of Canadian airports, and simultaneously book connections to Southwest flights in the U.S. But the deal is not expected to have only limited impact as there are only two American airports -- Las Vegas and Phoenix -- where WestJet and Southwest share runways.

At a few points last weekend, parking was at a premium at the Buffalo airport, with only some 400 vacancies to be found among the more than 7,100 spaces in its lots.

"We got to the point where we discussed off-site options, but things eased up and we never completely ran out of spots," Hartmayer said.

Through the first eight months of 2008, passenger counts are up 5.8 percent from 2007, outpacing national growth of 1.2 percent. The NFTA projects 2008 will be another record-setting year for the airport, with more than 5.7 million passengers, up from last year's record 5.3 million flyer count.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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